No. 2 Tennessee bounced back from its disappointing midweek loss against Florida by knocking off No. 25 Auburn 46-43 in a rock fight at Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday.
Both teams offenses stalled early-and-often in the matchup as neither team shot over 30% from the field.
Postgame Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes discussed the Vols’ offensive struggles, staying locked in on the defensive end and much more.
Here’s everything Rick Barnes said after Tennessee’s low scoring victory.
More From RTI: Three Quick Takeaways As Tennessee Knocks Off Auburn
On if it’s nice to be able to win a game like that
“It is. You guys have seen us more than anybody. There are night when the ball goes in, you feel like man it’s really, really good. I think when you win a game like this, I think there’s no question both teams played as hard they could play every possession. It was a grind. For us, again, I kept reminding the team last night, because we’re around our guys and we know them. We said hey, if we will just play great defense and rebound the ball on both ends, we’ll give ourself a chance. Reminded them that we beat Maryland and shot 29 percent. But both teams played extremely hard. Thought we had some good looks at the basket. You guys have watched us. Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t. The way that we grinder this one out, the crowd was great. But really, really happy with Jahmai Mashack. I thought his minutes were really critical. After every game, one of the biggest thoughts that goes through my mind with him is how can I get him in the game more minutes, because he just does so many great things when he’s out there. I thought our front line, Uros (Plavsic) came off the bench and helped us. Jonas (Aidoo), Tobe (Awaka), those guys were terrific. Josiah’s rebounding was big. Plus when we were struggling I thought his offensive game, midrange, really helped us get going. You would like to think you can make some of those shots around the rim. Again, they’re not easy, they’re not. But if you can make the ones you need to make, it opens it up for those perimeter guys because there’s no doubt when you’re struggling, those shots can take it out of you. They really can. The guys just kept fighting and fighting. They fought on the ball, defensively, rebounding. Everyone who played had a role in it.”
On the final possession, Wendell Green Jr.’s three as time expired and the contact made with Olivier Nkamhoua after the shot
“I haven’t seen it. You know, I really haven’t seen it. It looked like, where I was standing, ‘O’ was straight up. The rule is, like when the call on Santi early or I think Zakai, anything you go from Point A to Point B, it’s a foul. Anytime you go from Point B to Point A, it’s a foul. Then there’s that neutral area there. I guess, the official right there, ‘O’ stayed vertical. But I haven’t seen it.”
On this game being an example of not getting hung up on missed shots
“We had some wide-open shots. I actually told Santi one time, we came out and executed a play as well as we can execute it. He had as wide open of a look as he’s had in a month and he didn’t shoot it. Threw it inside. ‘O’ turned it over. But he was down there, Santi’s man was down there (in the post). That’s what we’ve got to get out of. We’ve got to continue to take our shots. Whether they’re going in or not. Trust our court balance. Trust the fact that we’ve got guys that are going to make the effort to go try and rebound it. But we’ve got to take open shots. You go back and when you break down, and we’re in that area where I think we’re going to learn from it. Keep getting better. Often times we throw the ball in the post, the teams guarding us on the perimeter down’t even think about coming down and choke it out. Just let those guys play out. We do need our post guys to deliver some of those baskets and make teams adjust to it. Again, what happens is players sense it, coaches sense it. When guys are open and not shooting the ball, the defense says OK, now we’re going to really back out and force you to do that. So there’s a lot of things going on in a game that players have to work through, coaches have to work through. It is February. You look around the country. There’s a lot of teams that struggle this time of year, especially in conference play because you know each other so well. Baskets are hard to come by. I am sure Bruce will look at his tape and think we got the shots we wanted and didn’t make it. We will certainly do the same thing. It is a players’ game. Always has been and always will be. We’ve just got to try to continue on the things we’ve to to improve on.”
On Tobe Awaka and Jahmai Mashack’s performance
“Just their effort. Their competitive spirit. They come in the game and they are flying around. Just their pursuit of the basketball and then defensively, Tobe is getting better and better on the perimeter and learning how to guard. Offensively, some of those passes that go in there are tough to handle in traffic. He will get better with that. The tenacity to go rebound the basketball. Both of them bring a sense of physicality. In a game like this, if you are not playing — and I think Bruce would say the same thing — if you are not locked in on the defensive end, it is not a game for you. Because both teams are going to be physical and work hard on that end.”
On the game’s physicality
“I think that is what you expect this time of year. I think you expect it within our league. I don’t think there’s a more physical league in the country than our league. Especially with coaches that have coached against each other for a while. There’s not a lot of secrets. Coaches are always going to try and get gets going and if not you are going to move onto somewhere else. It was hard fought. We didn’t start very well obviously. I think O missed four or five straight shots in there. I give it to his teammates because the one they said was they wanted to be able to play inside out. The didn’t get frustrated with it. They threw the ball back in there. After the first 10 points, I thought our defense was good. That is who we are. I think both coaches would love to see us score points. Both teams have struggled, at times, this year like a lot of other teams in this league to score points.”
On Josiah-Jordan James’ production
“It is what we talk about as much as anything. How can you impact winning when you are not shooting the ball well. You can always impact it on the defensive end. You can always impact it by rebounding the basketball the way he does, getting second shots. That is what he does. I thought when we were — throughout the whole game, some of his midrange plays were huge plays. When he went inside, jumped up and made a couple shots. He certainly kept us in the game. With his experience, we expect him to find a way to impact winning which he does most of the time.”
On how Tennessee defended Johni Broome
“I like to think the fact that we kept throwing bodies in there. He is a really good player. He really is. He can do some stuff around the rim and score the ball. I think the bigger lineup was more effective today. The length in there was important. I think it is the first time all year that at one time we had Josiah out there with Julian (Phillips) in a bigger lineup. Overall, when I think about our post defense and our length, it is hard to score around the rim. They got a shot blocker. They’ve got guys that can play about the rim. I do think that both teams were trying to get it close tot the basket to get fouled and score. It didn’t seem like any team could make shots from the perimeter throughout the game. I am proud of our post guys. It is not an easy team to defend.”
On how he felt like the post players responded after not defending Colin Castleton well on Wednesday
“I thought we were much more locked in with our post guys defensively there. I thought they started coming in, but we knew how we wanted to play Colin Castleton and we didn’t do it. We were too undisciplined, we were reaching. I don’t think we reached tonight in the post very much. I thought we started down for the most part. We weren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Again, our post guys had their work cut out for them tonight and they battled.”
On how he feels about where the offense is at right now
“You know, (Tennessee SID Tom Satkowiak) sent me a stat that the shots that we took, we make 70% of the time. I think you guys would agree. I think our players would agree. We had some shots tonight we need to make. But when it’s not, I’m really proud of our guys for staying locked in defensively. Again, I think the bench helped us because we were able to get guys some rest because every possession was a tough one. I just know that if we’ll keep going, get some of those shots to go down, give us a chance to get loose and settle in. But we’re going to be in games like this, whether it’s both teams score in the 60s or one-possession games. We’ve got to be able to make the majority of those high-percentage shots that we can make.”
On Tobe Awaka’s development
“What you see him do, he does it every day in practice. He really works at it. Really, really works at it. He’s got a great ability to go rebound the basketball. Where he’s gotten better is understanding the urgency of doing a lot more on the basketball court than he’s ever been asked to do. He’s really starting to understand the game and he’s going to battle. He’s going to fight for his position and he’s learning how to do that on the defensive end as well. But I think our guys would tell you that when he’s out there, they know that he’s going to bring some physicality and do whatever he has to do to get guys open. He can duck in, score the ball. He can.”
On what he needs from Zakai Zeigler to get back to the production he was having
“Well, again, as the season goes on, people will gameplan. What would help him as much as anything is if he can get some people around him to score some baskets. That’ll help him as much as anything. When guys are open, if they’ll shoot their shots and when he throws it inside, if guys can finish some of those where you make people adjust. He has the ball in his hands a lot and we trust him with it. He’s got so much better there, but we just need the balance we can get it. We’ve got to get it. You guys have often asked me what we need to do to get better, and the one word it comes down to is consistency. We need to know what to expect. I don’t expect Zakai to go 0-for-10 (from the field) or 0-for-7 (from three). He had (six) assists, (three) turnovers and two of them he was trying to put the ball inside there, but we’ve got guys. I just have confidence that we’re going to find a way to work our way out of this. I really believe that.”